Conlang—constructed language—is today’s topic for A Drift of Quills. Do we make up our own languages for our books? How? If not, why not? http://robinlythgoe.com

A Drift of Quills: Conlang (What’s That You Say?)

Conlang—constructed language—is today’s topic for A Drift of Quills. Do we make up our own languages for our books? How? If not, why not?

Pull up a chair, grab yourself a cookie or twenty, and read on to find out how the gang feels about fictional languages!

A Drift of Quills: Writerly thoughts by writerly folks

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I have a kind of lazy love for language. My copy of the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style makes me crazy, but… I’m one of those readers that will highlight passages in novels that sing to me. Sometimes I copy them into a file to come back to later so I can oo and ah over them. And I did take the equivalent of seven years of foreign language in high school. (I think I learned more about English there than I did in English classes!) Then there was Tolkien. Was my experience a recipe for conlang or what?

I think I’ve always been inclined to throw a little made up language into my stories. It’s not always appropriate, mind, so I can’t always indulge. Sad. As the Crow Flies can only claim a few fictional words, but I think Crow would happily invent them himself if they would confound Tanris.

Conlang—constructed language—is today’s topic for A Drift of Quills. Do we make up our own languages for our books? How? If not, why not? http://robinlythgoe.comThe Mage’s Gift is another story. (Do you see what I did there?) Because I’ve actually written for three different countries in the world of Tairenth, I have created three different languages–helped with a fourth (which my writing partner is using), and done some sketching-out of a fifth just to be able to fill in a map.

How do I develop them?

I started the hard way. Live and learn, right? After discovering some, er, embarrassments in my dictionaries, I did a little research. I love Google. Eventually, I settled on a how-to by author Holly Lisle, which I promptly modified to suit my own purposes. Things got a lot easier when I got organized about the process!

What does the language sound like? A real-world reference is a huge help. How are verbs conjugated? Prefixes and suffixes? Irregular forms? How about slang? Yeah, that sounds fun. Haha! But after I got the basic shape of it down (or shapes, in my case), the rest of it grew rather naturally from there.

Most of my efforts have been spent on the Alshani language spoken by my character Sherakai dan Tameko. Sometimes I even think in Alshani, which is kind of fun. I fully believe (it’s probably Tolkien’s fault) that adding language to a secondary world adds a richness of depth to the setting. Once an author has a full-fledged language, she must figure out how much of it to use—or not—in her novel. But that’s a discussion for another day!

What do you say we find out what Patricia and Parker have to say about the subject of conlangs for our books?

PATRICIA REDING

Patricia RedingAuthor of the Oathtaker Series
Patricia’s website

“D’Abunzid Bayshofenskidoe stooped for the griggen. Past the field of hoff, ripe for picking—notwithstanding that creckenmat had only just begun, he waited for a response from Doblay Spitzen’blar.” 

WHAT’S that you say???? What’s wrong? Don’t you read Mezphlatish? No problem, just check the glossary at the back…

I love language and the nuances communicated through highly similar but different words. I think it is fair to say that the work I do in both of my lives (as attorney and as author) depends on a keen sense of words and of the manipulation of them. For these reasons among others, I truly admire anyone able and willing to make up a language for a story and then to stick with the system religiously—which is necessary if the language is to work. If even a single instance occurs where it is not used but perhaps should have been—or perhaps could have been—then that failure could make a mockery of the entire system. But concerns over this issue present only one small reason for why I have not created my own language(s) for my stories…

P.S. BROADDUS

“P.S. Broaddus” width=Author of The Unseen Chronicles
Parker’s website

Klingon. Orcish. Elvish. Dwarvish. Or even Lapine from Watership Down. They are made up languages, which raises interesting questions about the constructs of language itself. It also raises interesting questions of the creator—do you have to have an artistic bent, or a mind for engineering and constructing? And finally, how does a new language help tell a story?

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What do you think of conlangs?
Have you got a favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

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One thought on “A Drift of Quills: Conlang (What’s That You Say?)

  1. “I fully believe (it’s probably Tolkien’s fault) that adding language to a secondary world adds a richness of depth to the setting.”

    Well said Robin! I do enjoy that richness, especially when done in a way, (like you describe), which flows with the story and doesn’t slow me down as a reader.

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